Interest in cryptocurrencies is growing at an unprecedented pace, attracting not just investors and technology enthusiasts, but the mainstream retail consumers. Cryptocurrency can now be used for a variety of purposes, be it as a store of wealth, an investment, a means of payment, or a method of conducting easier and cheaper cross-border payments. The popularity of cryptocurrencies can be demonstrated by the fact that it has also grown far beyond just Bitcoin, with other popular coins such as Ether, Litecoin, Solana and others now becoming household names for many retail investors.
In the past there may have been a misconception that the use of cryptocurrencies, along with its advantages, have been limited solely to highly technical people with regular and stable internet access. However, this is not the case. Bitcoin ATMs have grown in popularity alongside cryptocurrencies, and these machines play a hugely important role in empowering unbanked people across the globe, offering them access to cryptocurrency in convenient locations, providing them an alternative where they may not be able to access traditional finance.
In light of this, Sebastian Markowsky, Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Coinsource, here explains how bitcoin ATMs can play a pivotal role in empowering the unbanked and underrepresented.
Two billion people across the globe are classified as “unbanked” – that is, those who do not have access to a bank or similar institution in any capacity. This in and of itself, brings with it a host of issues, as individuals without access to a bank operate almost exclusively with cash, which is a security risk, and it limits their access when it comes to applying for loans or credit. Not only this, but these individuals largely cannot participate and enjoy the benefits of online commerce without incurring additional, needless expenses and being hugely inconvenienced.
Those in the developing world may not have access to a bank or the services associated with financial institutions for a variety of reasons. High fees and interest rates relative to income persist, while financial literacy remains particularly low in these countries. In many cases, the products and services offered by traditional financial institutions don’t cater to the needs of individuals in the developing world. This, paired with the fact that accessing banking requires an excessive amount of documentation from people who may not own any forms of personal identification documents at all, poses a significant barrier to entry. For many unbanked individuals in developing countries, it is almost impossible to access banking services.
While this is a significant problem in the developing world, it is not confined to emerging economies. The issue of being unbanked is a widespread problem that is also prevalent in developed countries. In 2016, almost 40 million EU citizens were classified as unbanked, while in 2020 this figure stood at 14 million unbanked in the USA. In order for the unbanked to participate in the economy, we need to look at potential new points of entry.
Role of Bitcoin ATMs
Bitcoin ATMs provide routes to financial inclusion to those who may not be able to access traditional banking systems, or may not be able to access other cryptocurrency purchasing platforms. According to Coinsource data, 30% of Bitcoin ATM users in the US are unbanked or underbanked, indicating that Bitcoin ATMs serve a significant portion of this historically underserved market. A large portion of Coinsource Bitcoin ATM users also come from minority groups, with almost 40% of users identifying as African American and over 13% identifying as Hispanic or Latinx, who are traditionally more likely to be un- or underbanked.
Users can easily access Bitcoin ATMs in a range of locations, such as convenience stores, allowing people who may not have internet access to acquire cryptocurrency. Similarly, smartphone usage tends to be far higher in developing countries, as many people in these countries have avoided desktops in favour of smartphones, due in part to the high costs associated with desktop computers. Bitcoin ATMs cater to this mobile-first audience, allowing them to purchase cryptocurrency without needing to access an expensive desktop computer.
Bitcoin ATMs are proving to be a core tool in driving financial inclusion in the 2020s and beyond. The ability to generate yield on cash that was formerly only losing value as a result of inflation is a game-changer. This can be seen in El Salvador, where inclusion in financial systems and wealth is increasing through the rollout of Bitcoin ATMs. Earlier this year, El Salvador became the first country in the world to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, and as a result the country has seen a steep increase in Bitcoin ATM installations, now ranking third in the world.
In the few short months since adopting Bitcoin as legal tender, El Salvador has already seen some rather promising results. Half of the population has been boarded onto the national Bitcoin Chivo Wallet within the first 30 days of its launch, and the Bitcoin network is now seeing more daily inflows than outflows. Thanks to the accessibility of Bitcoin, approximately three million Salvadorans are now effectively banked for the first time. This is nothing short of remarkable.
It is hoped that this movement, which has in some ways become a large-scale financial experiment, will play a fundamental role in shaping the behaviour of El Salvador’s population and how they interact with financial tools, particularly as a country where 22.3% of the population lived in poverty as recently as 2019. If this experiment succeeds, and for now it is showing clear signs of doing so, other countries will be lined up to follow suit. The idea is already being explored by nations such as Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Honduras, and others.
Global Crypto Adoption
It is evident that many other Latin American, African and Asian countries are already heavy adopters of cryptocurrency on a global level. Cryptocurrency transactions increased a staggering 706% in Southern Asia and Oceania, while the African crypto market grew by over $105 billion last year, “accounting for a 1,200% crypto growth” on the continent. Cuba’s Central Bank now recognises and regulates cryptocurrencies, while Argentina recently announced that it was considering launching the first crypto futures backed ETF in Latin America.
The knock-on effects of increased global adoption will be felt across almost all industries. International companies operating in countries that have adopted Bitcoin as legal tender may now be obliged to offer to pay employees’ salaries in Bitcoin.
The potential for what financial inclusion spurred by crypto adoption may lead to is limitless. Opportunities such as crypto investing, token investing, savings, sending remittances, lending and borrowing are huge – all for individuals that would otherwise have very limited alternatives to generate any yield with their fiat, which was traditionally held in cash. Additionally, Bitcoin ATMs offer lower fees and a safer way to store their cash. Investing in crypto can give these individuals an opportunity to save and invest in the future. Bitcoin ATMs offer this path to financial inclusion to the unbanked across the world.